1. Use Wood Chips, Chunks, or Hardwood Pellets
Prepare your meat with a rub (skip wet marinades) and add plenty of wood when you put your meat on the grill. Wood chips, chunks, and hardwood pellets are available in a variety of flavors like hickory, apple, and pecan. Be mindful though that different woods create different flavor profiles in your meat. Since you'll be cooking the meat for a long period of time, don't be afraid to stock up. If using a conventional wood smoker, wood chunks are a better choice than chips because they are denser and will last longer. If using a pellet grill, just make sure the hopper is full. You can still smoke without the wood, but you'll be missing out on some incredible aromas and delicious flavor!
2. Low and Slow
The best way to smoke is slowly over a low, indirect heat using wood smoke. If you're using a charcoal grill, build your fire on one side of the grill, and place your meat on the opposite side. The meat should never be directly above a flame.
3. Add a Water Pan
Fluctuating temperatures can dry out foods. Whenever you cook for long periods of time with charcoal, use a pan of water to add some humidity. Use a large disposable foil pan, and refill it when necessary.
4. Don't Overdo the Smoke
One of the most common errors novice smokers make is adding too much wood. This can cause the food to taste bitter. Just add a few chunks at a time. The smoke should flow out gently, not like a 4 alarm fire.
5. White Smoke = Good
Clean streams of white smoke layers your food with incredible aromas of smoky wood. But if your fire doesn't have good ventilation, or if the food is directly above the fire, the juices can burn and produce black smoke which can lead to bad flavor.
6. Don't Wander Off Too Far
Smoking is a relatively low maintenance style of cooking, but you still need to be mindful and concerned for safety. Don't leave the fire unattended, and check your temperature every hour or so. You may need to add more wood, charcoal, or adjust air vents to keep things going.
7. Airflow is Important
Keep the vents open on your charcoal grill and position the lid vent on the opposite side of the coals. The open vents draw smoke from the charcoal and wood below so that it swirls over your food and out the top properly. If the fire gets too hot, simply close the top vent almost all the way.
8. Mist Your Food
Mix a spray bottle with equal portions of apple cider vinegar and water. Every couple hours or so, lightly mist the meat. This will help preserve moisture and add some extra layers of flavor.
9. Don't Worry If It Gets Dark
The meat should have a dark mahogany crust that is nearly black. This is called "bark", which is the result of fat and spices with smoke developing a caramelized crust over the meat. Before you take the meat off the grill, make sure you have plenty of bark.
10. Open The Lid Sparingly
Every time you open the grill, you lose heat and smoke, two important elements for great smoked flavor. Open the lid only when you really need to tend to the fire or the food. Relax, have a beverage, and keep the lid on!